Shinobi (PlayStation 2) review
"But then there are those who'll love the challenge, revel in the startlingly addictive gameplay, and see past the mundane-looking environments, amazing themselves with the slick, fashionable elegance the game's artwork possesses. "
There are very few 3D games being released these days which skip all the fancy stuff we don't really need, and go straight for the simplistic, more abbreviated gameplay approach, reminiscent of old 2D classics, which most games are in desperately short supply of. One of such games was Maximo: Ghosts to Glory. Shinobi continues in that vein, presenting a game which ''is what it is.'' There is repetition, overwhelming difficulty and other ''flaws'' which may scare away certain gamers, but the developers don't try to hide it in any way. Little do most people realize, this game is possibly one of the funnest for the system, when one is willing to be persistent, and undertake the challenge.
Shinobi is really very little like any other PS2 game. The focus is almost primarily on fighting, with a few platform elements thrown in for good measure. You control an agile ninja with an array of superhero-like abilities. He can walk on walls, perform devastating sword combos, and teleport short distances extremely quickly. In the beginning, the gameplay consists strictly of entering a room, sweeping for enemies and when they are all defeated, you gain passage to the next room. The linearity is blatant, as is the lack of variation. While the 8 different stages themselves differ greatly from one another, the rooms within each stage are often identical. Simply put, if you're going to enjoy this game, you have to get past that from early on. There is repetition, there is redundancy. You will be seeing the same enemies over and over, you will be traveling through similar hallways and rooms, and the game makes this very obvious.
When/if you get past this, you will most likely be taken aback by the game's positive qualities. The most obvious lies in the game play department, which is the sheer fun of Shinobi. The game never slows, and will keep you trying again and again to progress, all the while having fun doing so. There are some original and successful ideas present, like the ability to power-up your sword by killing more enemies, or suffering damage by not killing enough. The paralysis shurikens are also a nice touch, adding more ninja-spice to this surreal adventure.
Because the gameplay is so easy to learn (but very difficult to master) you can just keep playing and playing, without giving it much thought. Of course, some may argue that the difficulty is too much. There are bosses here which will literally take you hours to beat, trying again and again, and that's just on normal difficulty. Everything is extremely unforgiving, in that when you die in the midst of a level, you must start again at the beginning of that level. There are no inter-stage checkpoints or saves, meaning no matter how close you are to the end, it's back to square one if you fail. And how easy it is to fail! One wrong jump off of a platform, and you fall to your doom. Many of the later levels do take place on a series of platforms, where the ''floor'' is actually one giant bottomless pit. And while most of the time you do need to kill all of the enemies in an area before venturing further, there are rare occasions where you can run through like a coward.
Of course, what good is a game like this without sleek, intuitive controls? I wouldn't know, because I've never played a game like Shinobi, and the controls here are great. Every move is each assigned to its own button, which works very well. I get slightly frustrated where a game requires you press down 2 or more buttons just to perform a simple maneuver, like blocking. Shinobi's difficulty wouldn't allow for that hindrance on its seamless control. The camera also works extremely well, for such ambitious game-design. You're bound to be whipping all over the screen, constantly, thanks to the game's fast-paced, frenzied action. Where most other games would leave you disoriented and frustrated due to a faulty camera system, Shinobi makes things perfectly easy and controllable. Things are generally seen from a standard third-person view, though you can rotate the camera at will, using the right-analog stick. If the camera does get out of hand, you can always center it almost instantaneously by pressing L1.
Shinobi is a cool game to look at. It's not that the graphics themselves are so great--they're only slightly above average. The aesthetic quality lies in stylish presentation. The movements are all very original and smooth, the characters are designed with great artistic quality, and the entire game is very cinematic. Not only are there decent, lengthy cutscenes after every stage, but there are also smaller cutscenes, using in-game graphics right in the midst of gameplay. For example, at certain points, like after you kill a room full of enemies, the camera will change, and it will show a close-up of Hotsuma sheathing his sword as all the enemies you just diced are split into pieces. If you're lucky, Hotsuma will also contribute a cliched (but fun) little line like ''Rest in peace.'' All in all, I think you'll be impressed by the graphics. Where they don't boast particularly detailed environments or textures, they make up for in sheer style and appeal.
Like many games these days, all of the dialogue in Shinobi is spoken, with real voices. While the acting on its own is bland and forgettable, they included an interesting language feature, which allows you to switch between English or Japanese spoken dialogue (with subtitles) at will. I really liked this option, because when combined with the cool Japanese style of the game, hearing the characters speak actual Japanese gives the game an anime-ish feel to it. The music is also a plus, coming out as something a cross between old-times oriental-sounding tunes and your standard techno. It's a cool result, and very satisfying--matching the surreal, tech-anime feel of the game.
Other reviews may have you believe that this game can be beaten in about 5 hours or so. This is probably true, but it's hard to give a ''real'' time estimate, as the game's clock times every single moment you play--and it doesn't reset when you die, or replay a level (after it is beaten). My time in the game was 12 hours, but I replayed many of the stages over and over again, because they were so fun. Strangely enough, this is one of the few games where it's actually fun to replay past stages. Many games claim this little bonus, but few speak the truth. Because of Shinobi's simplistic, twitch-based gameplay, you are almost assured to be satisfied so long as you keep playing the game. It's the sort of game where you're playing at an almost instinctive level--you're not sure why, but you're going to keep playing it over and over, because there's something phenomenally rewarding hidden inside the extreme challenge. The stages (16 in all) range from 5-15 minutes in length. So yes, technically you could beat it in a few hours, but good luck. This game is tough, and I know of no one who would find it even remotely easy. But in case you do, there are always more difficulties to unlock, so that should keep you busy.
Shinobi is a hard game to review. There are so many flaws (if you would call them that) which could scare so many gamers off in an instant. I've heard of people saying that this game is so hard, that it actually makes it bad. I beg to differ--I believe that the key here is to just keep trying. That's what I did, and I finished the game just fine. Better yet, I actually had an immense amount of fun doing it. There's also the repetitive, deceptively simple gameplay which some may find pointless and tedious. Not to mention the graphics which, though artistically impressive, may not live up to the standards of ultra-polished PS2 games. But then there are those who'll love the challenge, revel in the startlingly addictive gameplay, and see past the mundane-looking environments, amazing themselves with the slick, fashionable elegance the game's artwork possesses. The sure-fire choice here is to rent Shinobi. If you find that it's for you, you can go and pick it up, then play it for 12 hours like I did. If you hate it, then you can keep hating it, and be glad you didn't buy it.
Staff review by James Gordon (January 15, 2003)
A bio for this contributor is currently unavailable, but check back soon to see if that changes. If you are the author of this review, you can update your bio from the Settings page.
If you enjoyed this Shinobi review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!